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“Beyond The Courtroom”: Until The Lions Have Their Historians, Tales Of The Hunt Shall Always Glorify The Hunter

Whatever happens in the George Zimmerman trial, it has produced a valuable and profound dialogue in America about some important issues surrounding race and justice, fear and aggression, and legal guilt and moral culpability.

That conversation is about people’s right to feel suspicion and fear and whether those feelings need be justified to be real. It is about the degree to which suspicions and fears are culturally constructed, or at least culturally influenced, are innate or are born of personal experience.

More specifically, it is about how race, age and gender might influence our threat responses, and whether that is acceptable. For instance, as a thought experiment, reverse the race and ethnicities of Trayvon Martin and Zimmerman and see if that has any effect on your view of the night’s events. Now, go one step further and imagine that the teenager who was shot through the heart was not male but female and ask yourself again: does it have any effect on how you view the facts of this case?

Are we acculturated to grant some citizens the right to feel fear while systematically denying that right to others?

That conversation is about the particulars and vagaries of laws. It is about a law that allows an “aggressor” to legally use deadly force against a defender if the two become engaged in an altercation where the aggressor begins to “believe” he or she is in imminent danger of being seriously hurt or killed. Do we want our laws to be written in such a way? Should the “aggressor” pay no legal penalty for setting deadly events in motion? Should the idea of self-defense bounce back and forth between two people like a Ping-Pong ball?

The conversation is also about the legal realization that when you are killed, not only do you die but so does your version of the events that led to your death. It must be reconstructed — to the degree that it is possible — through the eyes of witnesses and the rigors of science, but when your body falls still, your voice falls silent.

Cases like this are about proving or disproving the story of the killer, the only story that survives. Were his actions justified or not?

This creates an automatic imbalance in which the survivor has the advantage. There is an African proverb that goes something like this: Until the lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.

So, by extension, the conversation is about whether each of us has a moral responsibility — laws notwithstanding — to do all we can to prevent a tragedy like the one that occurred in Sanford. Regardless of who initiated the physical altercation between Martin and Zimmerman, the two never had to come into close contact. If Zimmerman had stayed in his vehicle and not pursued the teenager, Martin would have made it home for the second half of the N.B.A. All-Star Game he had been watching and today he would be one year older.

Technically, only Zimmerman is on trial, but in the broader debate, particularly among people who think Zimmerman innocent, is Martin also on trial? And if so, does that mean that all teens who look and behave similarly to Martin are also on trial? What precedent, if any, would a not-guilty verdict set?

Even if you believe that the teenager at some point during the night’s events did something wrong — the defense contends that he “sucker punched” Zimmerman, banged his head on cement and pummeled his face — that teenager is now paying the ultimate price for those alleged mistakes. Does that mean that the person who shot him is guiltless and deserving of no legal punishment?

Should “not guilty” as charged (if that were to be the verdict) be read the same as “without guilt” in general? Is there some moral space in which Martin can, as the defense contends, be solely responsible for his own death?

The conversation is about people’s emotional investment in a version of events and a particular verdict, and why that investment has racial and ideological leanings. It’s about the likelihood of one verdict over another. The bar for finding of guilt is particularly high here. The defense doesn’t need the jury to see its client as completely innocent, just not completely guilty.

And the conversation is about how to respond responsibly to a verdict that many court watchers believe is likely to be less than second-degree murder, if in fact guilt is found at all.

There is quite a bit of talk — by local authorities, irresponsible individuals and institutions — about the possibility of rioting in the case of a not-guilty verdict. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office has produced a public service announcement urging any potential protesters to “raise your voice and not your hand.” Rush Limbaugh said last week that the media were “agitating for race riots” in the case. Sean Hannity had Mark Fuhrman, of O.J. Simpson trial infamy, on his Fox News show to discuss the possibility of riots. And The Washington Times conducted a poll recently asking, “Will there be riots in Florida if George Zimmerman receives a not-guilty verdict by a jury of his peers?” As of the publication of this column, three-quarters of respondents said “yes.”

Surely, there has been riot talk on social media, and local law enforcement should plan for all possibilities, but media speculation and predictions about it can start to sound like desire rather than defusion.

I can’t think of a more fruitless and self-destructive exercise than rioting. Protests have power, but rioting drains that power away. Justice is sometimes a journey. It doesn’t always lead to where you think it should.

The case may produce a verdict some people don’t agree with. But it has also produced a conversation that has weight and merit. All energy — even anger — should be funneled into extending that conversation and focusing on the factors that necessitated the case in the first place.

Violence took Martin’s life. We shouldn’t let violence also mar his memory in death.

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 10, 2013

July 12, 2013 Posted by | Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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